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Conserving of Peat Bogs - Essay Example

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The effect of human activity on the world's peatland ecosystems is slowly developing into what will eventually become a significant global crisis. Comprised of thick accumulations of preserved plant detritus with a dominating living plant surface layer, peatland is an extremely important economic raw material, store of carbon, and archive of environmental change…
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Conserving of Peat Bogs
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Download file to see previous pages In fact, according to Pearce in his article "Peat bogs harbour carbon time bomb," it is estimated that "the bogs of Europe, Siberia and North America hold the equivalent of 70 years of global industrial emissions" (2004). Peat forms in a low-oxygen environment that prevents the rapid decomposition of plant matter (Eslick, 2001). As a result, peat lands are not conducive to the general growth of vegetation because its "soils" are poor in nutrients. However, since "peat is a precursor to coal," it is also a significant (though much cheaper) source of energy that has for many years been exploited by man (Eslick). This exploitation has, in some cases, almost decimated the stores of peat in many parts of the world. In Ireland, for instance, 50% of raised bogs were depleted in only about 30 years, all for the purpose of extracting its stores of energy (Abbot). Another common use of peat from bogs is in improving the composition of soil in agriculture, and "Horticulturists today value Sphagnum peat for its resistance to decomposition and ability to neutralize odor" (Dente, 1997). For these reasons, peat is harvested and marketed on large scales in such countries as the United States, Ireland and Sweden. In a time when scientists, environmentalists and governments alike seek to preserve the stores of fossil fuels in the earth, it would seem natural that an equal preservation of peat (and, by extension, the bogs that contain it) should follow. Yet what, if any, are the tangible environmental benefits of preserving peat bogs Are there any immediate or foreseeable costs that outweigh the benefits of using peat as an energy source or for agri-/horticultural purposes
Acting as remarkable terrestrial carbon pools (or 'sinks'), peatlands can store carbon for near geological time-scales. Playing a crucial role in the global carbon cycle they lock up the primary greenhouse gas CO2, helping to prevent global warming. The role of carbon in the environment is an intricate one. Carbon possesses an uncanny ability to bond with other elements. Therefore, it makes up part of millions of compounds that exist on the earth, and because of this, it can be found everywhere and in just about everything on the planet. Carbon bonds with oxygen stoichiometrically, which "means that for every mole of carbon oxidized, one mole of carbon dioxide is produced," and it is also true that "achieving an appropriate level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is requisite to preventing anthropogencially induced climate change" (Eslick, 2001).
A phenomenon of peat-levels in bogs is the fact that their carbon levels seem to be so intimately connected with the levels of carbon in the atmosphere that an increase in one sparks an increase in the other. They feed off each other, and according to this idea, an escalation of carbon might already have begun that will sustain itself regardless of further human intervention (Pearce, 2004). The high level of carbon present in the bogs, when released by burning or other activities, contributes to an increase in the CO2 levels of the atmosphere, which over the past 200 years has risen from 278 ppm (parts per meter) to 360 ppm (Stonyfield, 1997). This rise correlates with the general rise in the temperature level of the earth that, in fact, defines global warming, and the exploitation of peatlands has been a major contributor to the increase in ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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